North Carolina heads into Saturday’s Victory Bell showdown with Duke resembling a M.A.S.H. unit. Over the course of training camp and three games, the Tar Heels have lost numerous starters to injuries. The list includes linebacker Andre Smith, offensive linemen Bentley Spain, Cam Dillard, and William Sweet, defensive lineman Jalen Dalton, and wide receivers Thomas Jackson and Dazz Newsome. Sweet, Dalton, Dorn, Newsome, and Jackson were all injured in UNC’s road victory at Old Dominion.
UNC’s injury report, released Thursday evening, revealed that Sweet, Jackson, and Smith are all out for the season Dalton, who was seen leaving the stadium with a boot on his right foot, was ruled doubtful for the Duke game, as was cornerback Corey Bell. Dillard, Newsome, and Spain are all listed as questionable.
One of the biggest good pieces of news for UNC on the injury front is Chazz Surratt. Just a week after taking an awkward fall and missing the second half of the Louisville game, Surratt returned to face Old Dominion. Showing no ill effects, Surratt staked his claim to UNC’s starting quarterback job by completing 16 of 24 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown. Surratt will be in there as the Tar Heels seek to claim the Victory Bell back from the Blue Devils.
Sophomore linebacker Jonathan Smith made his first career start Saturday against Old Dominion, and will step in again for the Tar Heels against Duke. After making one catch in the ODU game, Anthony Ratliff-Williams will have a chance to make a larger impact in Jackson and Newsome’s absence.
Up front offensively, the Tar Heels have relied on players such as Charlie Heck and Nick Polino to fill the void as Spain, Dillard, Sweet, and Khaliel Rodgers have all missed portions of games due to injuries. The return of Tyler Powell from suspension provides an additional veteran presence along the defensive line in case Dalton is out for an extended period of time.
Duke comes to Chapel Hill ranked first in the ACC in total defense, and fourth in total offense. In victories over North Carolina Central, Northwestern, and Baylor, the Blue Devils allowed just 143 rushing yards. They’ve also been balanced offensively, producing 722 rushing yards and 770 passing yards, while averaging 5.5 yards per play.
David Cutcliffe’s club, coming off a home victory over the Tar Heels last season, would be a handful for UNC under ideal circumstances. As it stands, the Blue Devils are coming to Chapel Hill a 2.5 point favorite. If the Tar Heels can get the Victory Bell back, given all their injuries, this win would be a matter of much more than bragging rights.